Arguments (Guest-Written by David Cody Cook)

This strip was written by David Cody Cook of Cody’s Black Box. Props to the DCC.

This is probably not the optimal comic to follow my Calamities of Nature parody, as you might well accuse me of doing here with Independent Music James what Tony Piro does with Aaron the mole. And it’s anyone’s guess how much mileage you’ll get out of the main joke if you don’t already find Dawkins’ argument laughable. Neither am I exonerated by having a guest writer on this one–I did, after all, deem the script inkworthy and commit it to paperthe internet. Hopefully you’re at least amused by my parody of this picture.

Here is Dawkins’ basic argument from The God Delusion, 2nd ed, pp. 188-189:

“1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself…

3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable…

4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability, and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings…

5. We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics…

6. We should not give up the hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.”

It honestly blows my mind that he would as much as admit that the world looks designed, then turn around and say that the best explanation for these appearances is anything but “there is a designer.” Does this strike you as weird?

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15 Comments

  1. As highlighted in the previous comic, the medium of a four panel comic is a fairly poor medium for philosophical debate, as:

    A) You have four panels, which is only about enough space to present an opposing argument and then argue against it [without any opportunity for retort]

    B) The entire ‘debate’ is conducted by one person, the artist, who has a particular POV and can shape the discussion and circumstances of that discussion, re-framing the opposing argument to be weak (i.e. cherry picking the weakest strands of their opponent’s case) and depict the opposing arguer to be flawed in a variety of ways. It is pretty much a guarantee that in such a universe the conclusion of the comic is going to come down in the artist’s favour.

    1. I agree, Luke. If you set out to prove a point in a comic strip, it’s a recipe for strawmanning.

      Sketch Comedy has always been a conversation between me and my readers, my characters, and my fellow cartoonists. I try to keep the conversation ongoing, and I think all the questions surrounding God are important to actually address, but since I already know what Jackson thinks, it’s much more interesting to me to find out the views of my characters and my readers. Like, say, Independent Music James.

      Thanks for the link to the stuff on Hume. I’m familiar with him, but largely in the context of his arguments about causality. It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say about the argument from design.

  2. Now, I haven’t read Dawkins. But what he seems to be saying here isn’t that there appears, to him, to be a designer. What he’s saying is that our brains, which are designed to come up with explanations, invent a designer to explain the world. There “appears” to be a designer, not to Dawkins, but to US. To humans as a whole, the illusion of a designer is an easy one.

    And he’s not saying that physics’ lack of an explain-everything theory means that we need FAITH to hold on until we have one. He’s saying that the probability that better physics will emerge, in the same way that Darwinism (and its later fine-tuning) explained a biology that seemed completely random and creator-driven before we figured it out, is a far greater probability than the theory of a designer.

    As to the comic, I like the first two panels an awful lot, but I don’t get the third one. Is a Christ statue floating down a river? It’s possibly painfully obvious to everyone else.

    1. That particular statue of Jesus is the Cristo Redentor, which stands atop the Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro:

      I think it would be clearer where it’s situated if I’d included more detail in the scene.

  3. The whole point of Dawkins’ argument is that trying to explain a complex universe by assuming a Designer who must be more complex than the universe not only does not explain the problem, but instead makes it worse. Any resulting attempt to say that the Designer did not need another Designer in turn, but just IS, can be more simply applied to the universe – Occam’s razor.

  4. I have no interest in debating whether God exists. I don’t think that would be productive on a forum like this.

    What I think is much more interesting to discuss is whether using “gap arguments” like the one presented by the characters in the last panel puts arguments for God on philosophically shaky ground.

    If I were a religious person, I would want my arguments for the existence of God to be as strong as possible. But if you say that God exists as an explanation for something we don’t understand scientifically, then you run the risk that if science does figure it out, it appears that it has some how ruled out God. But I don’t agree because belief in God is a matter of faith.

    For example, in the last panel you argue that since science can’t explain the origin of the Universe, then it is evidence for God. But I know many people that are working on understanding the initial wave function of the Universe and trying to quantify how probable it is to spontaneously occur via quantum mechanical effects. If these people were successful in this research, it might sound like an argument against God. But it only sounds like an argument against God because of how religious people have framed the debate.

    In other words, I think religious people do themselves a disservice when they try to argue for the existence of God on these grounds.

  5. Alright, I’ll take my turn arguing, since I think I can cleanly articulate the problem here:

    The argument is /not/ that anybody should have faith that physicists can explain the origins of the universe out of nothing, but rather that physicists have demonstrated an ability to usefully explain natural phenomena, and it is therefore not unrealistic to expect that naturalistic explanations will be found for currently unexplained occurrences.

    “It honestly blows my mind that he would as much as admit that the world looks designed, then turn around and say that the best explanation for these appearances is anything but “there is a designer.” Does this strike you as weird?”

    Re: the above…. no. Not in the least. It appears that maggots grow spontaneously from rotting meat (and that is what people believed for a long time), but that does not mean they actually do. In fact, that explanation was an objectively poor one, because rather than explain, it deferred explanation — it did nothing to explain the mechanism by which maggots came into being (sound familiar?). The same is true for innumerable explanations that persisted for (literally) ages. The first stage in critical thinking is learning to recognize an apparently deficient explanation so that you can devote resources to testing it.

    Key point: a good scientist will prefer to live with the uncertainty of an unanswered question than risk accepting an incorrect answer because it is completely untested.

    In short: Dawkins is right to say that a deity cannot be used to explain the origins of the universe. It irks me when scientists are criticized as arrogant/hypocritical for saying that they may be able to answer a question at some point in the future, but don’t know the answer now.

    tl;dr — hope /= faith

  6. My very short version of this argument is this: If the big bang is how the universe was created where did the matter that was involved in the big bang come from. Everything had to have a beginning. There had to have been something there to “bang” in a “big” way… where did that come from? To me the only logical conclusion is that a being who is a timeless and is in fact the creator of time created both time and all of the universe. He has always existed without start or finish and he invited the concept of time. That’s a lot to swallow, but to me that seems to be the only way you can answer the “well what created the creator?” question.

    1. Matt. Why can you not just apply your explanation for the creator’s existence directly to the universe? What is your justification for the added level of complexity in your hypothesis?

      1. Mostly because the universe is not a sentient being that could choose to create everything else. To me, the creation of the universe is just one of the many evidences of intelligent design.

        1. Gryfft has got it right — that’s a good graphic.

          Matt — why must something be sentient in order to have existed forever? If anything, isn’t it a harder sell to say that some sort of sentient being has existed forever than to just propose that matter has?

          Basically, see gryfft’s image — eet ees good.

          1. The added level of complexity is needed because of the need for timelessness. The Universe is affected by time, to which there needs to be a beginning, but a God that is timeless needs no such beginning, since it always has been and always will be.

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